July 20, 2010

Groh hits the ground running at Georgia Tech

MORE: List of defensive coordinator changes

Al Groh recently had been let go as Virginia's coach when his phone rang. It was Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.

"He said he was sorry the way things worked out and that I had done a good job there, and wanted to know if I would be interested in coming down there to join his staff," Groh says.

Just like that, Groh was the Yellow Jackets' new defensive coordinator.

"I really believe in what we are doing offensively, and he feels that same way about what he does defensively," Johnson says. "When we played them and we found an opening or weakness, he usually countered. That's kind of what intrigued me about him.

"I don't know if it matters what you do on offense and defense as long as you have a package that you understand. He's someone who has a system who I think can help us win some games."

Rarely does a school win a conference championship and make a radical change. But that's what Johnson did after last season, firing defensive coordinator Dave Wommack soon after the ACC-champion Yellow Jackets lost to Iowa 24-14 in the Orange Bowl to close an 11-3 season.

When Wommack left, he took his 4-3 defense with him. Enter Groh and his 3-4 defense.

"For 40 years, I have been a husband, father and a coach," Groh says. "That is what I do. I don't play golf, I putter in the garden, I think about football, I think about our players. That's what I do. That's what I always intended to continue to do.

"When this opportunity came up, it was very intriguing because it would enable me to continue to be who I am and do what I feel challenged by."

Hey, there's the new guy
Here is a list of the new defensive coordinators this season, listed by league. One important note: Coordinators at schools with new head coaches weren't included.
ACC
Georgia Tech
OUT
: Dave Wommack, fired
IN: Al Groh, former coach at Virginia (had been fired after last season

BIG EAST
None

BIG TEN
Illinois
OUT
: Dan Disch, demoted to linebacker coach, and Curt Mallory, to Akron as coordinator
IN: Vic Koenning, from co-coordinator at Kansas State

Purdue
OUT
: Donn Landholm, demoted to co-coordinator
IN: Gary Emmanuel, from line coach at Rutgers (will be co-coordinator)

BIG 12
Texas A&M
OUT
: Joe Kines, retired
IN: Tim DeRuyter, from coordinator at Air Force

CONFERENCE USA
Houston
OUT
: John Skladany, fired (now linebacker coach at UCF)
IN: Brian Stewart, from NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, where he had been a defensive assistant

UTEP
OUT
: Osia Lewis, fired (now coordinator of the UFL's Hartford Colonials)
IN: Andre Patterson, from defensive line coach at UNLV (had been fired at end of season)

MID-AMERICAN
Ball State
OUT
: Doug Graber, retired
IN: Jay Hood, promoted from defensive ends coach

Eastern Michigan
OUT
: Eric Lewis, fired (now a financial advisor in San Francisco area)
IN: Phil Snow, had been out of football (most recent job was as linebacker coach of the NFL's Detroit Lions in 2008)

Western Michigan
OUT
: Steve Morrison, fired (now linebacker coach at Eastern Michigan)
IN: Dave Cohen, coach at Hofstra (the school dropped football after last season)

MOUNTAIN WEST
Air Force
OUT
: Tim DeRuyter, to Texas A&M as coordinator
IN: Matt Wallerstedt, promoted from linebacker coach

PAC-10
Arizona
OUT
: Mark Stoops, to Florida State as coordinator
IN: Greg Brown, from secondary coach at Colorado, and Tim Kish, promoted from linebacker coach

California
OUT
: Bob Gregory, to Boise State as defensive assistant
IN: Clancy Pendergast, from NFL's Oakland Raiders, where he was to be secondary coach (he was the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive coordinator last season but was fired after the season)

Stanford
OUT
: Andy Buh, to Nevada as coordinator, and Ron Lynn, to director of player development at Stanford
IN: Vic Fangio, from NFL's Baltimore Ravens, where he had been linebacker coach

SEC
Florida
OUT
: Charlie Strong, to Louisville as head coach
IN: Teryl Austin, from NFL's Arizona Cardinals, where he had been secondary coach

Georgia
OUT
: Willie Martinez, fired (now secondary coach at Oklahoma)
IN: Todd Grantham, from NFL's Dallas Cowboys, where he had been defensive line coach

Mississippi State
OUT
: Carl Torbush, to Kansas as coordinator
IN: Manny Diaz, from coordinator at Middle Tennessee, and Chris Wilson, from defensive ends coach at Oklahoma

SUN BELT
Florida International
OUT
: Phil Galiano, to Rutgers as tight ends coach
IN: Geoff Collins, from linebacker coach at UCF

Middle Tennessee
OUT
: Manny Diaz, to Mississippi State as co-coordinator
IN: Randall McCray, from linebacker coach at Wisconsin

WESTERN ATHLETIC
Boise State
OUT
: Justin Wilcox, to Tennessee as coordinator
IN: Pete Kwiatkowski, promoted from defensive line coach

Hawaii
OUT
: Cal Lee, demoted to defensive line coach
IN: Dave Aranda, promoted from defensive line coach

Nevada
OUT
: Nigel Burton, to Portland State as head coach
IN: Andy Buh, from co-coordinator/linebacker coach at Stanford
And that is to coach defense. This spring, he began installing his beloved 3-4 scheme and liked what he saw. It's an alignment that he learned how to run while working in the NFL for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. And it's a scheme that served Groh well in his nine seasons at Virginia. He was 59-53 as Cavs coach, and the 3-4 defense was the backbone of his best teams.

"We will be a more aggressive and attacking defense, which is something we haven't had the last couple of years," Tech senior cornerback Mario Butler says. "We will attack and not sit back from the defensive line all the way back to the secondary."

Butler is one of eight starters returning on a defense that was average at best in 2009. Johnson expected more, which is why Groh now is in Atlanta.

Despite ranking third in the nation in time of possession -- thanks to Johnson's ball-control, option attack -- Tech still yielded an average of 24.8 points per game to rank sixth in the ACC in scoring defense. The Yellow Jackets were seventh in the league in total defense (360.3 ypg).

"We were so inconsistent," Johnson says. "I think we played twice last year without making the other team punt. And there were three other games when the other team only punted once. We were fortunate that we won three of the five, but you aren't going to survive like that for very long."

The big issue was stopping the run, as Tech ranked eighth in the conference (151.6 ypg). Only one ACC team yielded more yards per rush than the Yellow Jackets' average of 4.9 yards -- Florida State at 5.4.

Another issue was a lack of big plays. Tech finished ninth in the ACC in sacks (1.8 per game) and 10th in tackles for loss (4.9 per game).

"Without critiquing anyone else's efforts, obviously they had some issues," Groh says. "When the head coach looks on the field, he has a vision of what the defense should look like. ... Good defense gets his offense back on the field."

It's an offense that again should be among the best in the nation, which is why Georgia Tech finds itself ranked in most preseason top 25s. If Groh can tighten the defense, Tech may be able to repeat as league champ.

Groh's familiarity with ACC offenses means he will hit the ground running, knowing what to expect from each opponent's offense. His defense routinely ranked among the ACC's best, producing talent such as ends Chris Long and Chris Canty and linebackers Clint Sintim, Ahmad Brooks and Darryl Blackstock, among others. Five of Groh's nine Cavaliers defenses ranked in the top half of the ACC.

Running a defense that will backstop a ball-control, clock-eating offense appeals to Groh, whose coaching tree has produced the likes of Indianapolis Colts assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince, Temple coach Al Golden and Virginia coach Mike London.

"When Paul's offenses have gotten the ball, they have held it for a long time," Groh says. "Every defense's objective is to get off the field as fast as it can. The two ways you do that are with takeaways and third-down success.

"In this case, that gets emphasized because the faster that offense gets on the field, the longer it will stay out there. Those two things combined dramatically affect the most important statistic in defensive football, which is points allowed."

Butler understands all of that. He also began to understand and appreciate the intensity and passion that Groh brings to the game.

"He's fiery," Butler says. "And that's a good thing for us. That gets us amped up to see him like that. ...

"I can't wait. We will send someone close to every play, so you will get some type of pressure coming from somewhere. This is going to be fun."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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